Disability Representation

I’m not a fan of unresolved cliffhanger endings in tv shows and movies, so I am going to finish talking about my experience with Zoey’s Extraordinary Playlist. My previous post covered caregiver burnout and episodes 1-3. This blog post addresses episodes 4-12 (end). Admittedly, this is a big jump, but remember that disability is a subplot of the show and not the main focus. As such, this is more of a catch-all review with relevant plot points from the series (spoilers ahead).

Episode 4 is a great example of why I love the show. While coming home from work one night, Zoey overhears “Margaritaville” by Jimmy Buffet coming from the home of another tenant in her complex and knocks on the door without a reply. Throughout the episode, Zoey learns that her neighbor, Bonnie, is an agoraphobe who wishes to travel to tropical islands. While my understanding of agoraphobia is limited, I appreciate how the show took a measured approach to Bonnie’s troubles as opposed to trying to solve her situation. Most of all, the idea that the show highlights other disabilities is very appealing.

As Mitch’s condition worsens, his wife Maggie must decide what she wants to do with their one joint floral business. The crux of episode 5 deals with Maggie’s initial hesitation to continue the shop on her own while not feeling guilty for her decision. In her own words, “it doesn’t feel right doing this without your dad.”

The concept of caregiver guilt is a foundational part of coming to terms with a non-congenital disability. Bear in mind, that although the guilt does not subside, it does get easier over time. One of the resources I’ve turned to most often is the blog of my former coworker, Kristen, who chronicles her life as a caregiver to her husband, Jeff, who sustained a spinal cord injury in 2014. The following is an excerpt from a 2015 post:

“…Not only do I like my job, the company I work for, and my co-workers, but I’ve recently discovered that I like leaving my caregiving duties behind for a short time each week day. Of course, all of this makes me feel …wait for it … GUILTY. Not only guilty that I like getting away from it all, but guilty because I can get away. My husband cannot. Right here, right now, I would love to tell you that I’ve found a way to quell this guilt and that I’m well on my way to conquering it. But that’s not even close to the truth. Because, really, I don’t think guilt is something you conquer as a caregiver. I think it’s something you manage.”

Like Kristen, Maggie must come to terms with certain aspects of her life within the year following her husband’s injury. Readjusting to her new normal and everything that comes with it is a trying task. While every relationship is different, it is extremely beneficial to have the partner weigh in, if possible, as Mitch eventually did.

Caregiving is tough, but finding an external caregiver is tougher. I recently hired my first care giver last year and it has definitely been a learning experience. While I don’t require that much care, having someone outside of my family to help with everyday things was an adjustment. In episode 7, the family searches for a caregiver following an unexpected fall, while Mitch was placed under the care of a family friend at the end of the previous episode. The family narrows the list down to two participants: an over-qualified nurse and a relaxed retired veteran. Although, the nurse was efficient, she failed to view Mitch as a human being, compared to the veteran, Howie, who mixed vegetables in Mitch’s chocolate smoothie “for the vitamins.”

It is important to find a caregiver that gets along with their client and also fulfills their needs.

Episode 9 is the reason why I’m writing this post right now. It is also the last time disability is mentioned in the show. Zoey is prompted to help Howie as she overhears him singing “Sound of Silence” by Simon and Garfunkel. Zoey learns that Howie and her daughter, Alice, are not on speaking terms and accompanies Howie to UC Berkley to confront her. Alice is a resident of the deaf dorm who wants to build coding camps for kids in Africa. Howie has a difficult time letting her gom given his daughter’s disability, but agrees after some convincing from Zoey. Also, there is an extremely powerful ASL rendition of “Fight Song” by Rachel Platten that is better seen then described. The amount of genuine attention placed on communicating a disability experience on a program where disability is not the man focus, is astounding in the best possible way.

Disability representation in American television has grown within the last few years, with shows like Speechless, NCIS: New Orleans, The Healing Powers of Dude, and Raising Dion, but Zoey’s Extraordinary Playlist fills a unique space that addresses disability from an authentic perspective that I love and appreciate.

About Tim Shin: Tim lives in River Vale, NJ, and is a Q Roll Model for Quantum Rehab. He enjoys food, fashion, music and television. Click here to learn more about Tim.